Something stinks…it’s in your trash can, and it’s not last night’s dinner - it’s identity theft. Have you ever considered that what you throw away could be putting you at risk? Could one man’s trash be another man’s…opportunity? It’s time to think about the safety of your trash.
When we think about identity theft, there is a lot of focus on protecting ourselves in digital spaces by taking measures such as making sure your passwords are strong, only connecting to secure Wi-fi, keeping your devices protected, etc. But what about the personal information we have in paper form? What about the dangers lurking in our crusty, greasy, dirt-laden garbage bins? What you toss, could be putting you at risk.
Is what you throw out making you at risk of identity theft?
Possibly. There are criminals out there who target people by sifting through their trash through a process known as dumpster diving; and according to Lifelock, this method of identity theft is one of the most traditional and effective ways to steal your identity.
Information dumpster divers are looking for:
- Street addresses
- Social security numbers
- Email addresses
- Mother’s maiden name and other personal info
- Telephone numbers
- Employment history
- Old prescriptions, medical records, and health insurance bills
The types of mail that criminals can use to obtain your personal information:
- Pre-approved credit card offers
- Bank statements
- Credit card bills
- Phone bills
- Personal mail from family or friends
In the hands of the wrong person, your personal information makes it all too easy for a criminal to:
- Perform loan/payday loan fraud
- Steal your identity
- Bank fraud
- Tax fraud
- Benefits fraud
- Ruin your credit score
How to theft-proof your trash:
1. Make sure your trash bin is in the “curtilage” of your home. This means it is in the area immediately surrounding your home. The better protected your trash bin, the less likely a criminal will gain access to it.
2. Shred your documents before throwing out. Simply ripping by hand will not get the job done. And don’t just shred them – use a cross-cut shredder to ensure documents are truly shredded. A cross-cut shredder will turn your paper into confetti, rather than strips, so it’s more difficult for your information to be pieced back together. Don’t have a shredder at home? Your local UPS Store likely has a shredding service that you can use for a fee.
3. Don’t just toss junk mail. There’s more personal information on these pesky items of mail than you realize. Add the junk mail to the shredder pile before tossing.
4. Don’t use public trash bins for your personal items. While it is illegal to trespass on private property, surprisingly, it is not a crime to go dumpster diving in public places. Cleaning out your car at the gas station seems like a great idea, until your identity gets stolen from the old crumpled up credit card bill you didn’t realize was hiding under the driver’s seat. Wait until you get home, shred your personal info, and toss in your trash bin at home.
How you handle your paper documents can be just as important as how you handle your online privacy. Protect yourself from identity theft in all areas of your life, and safeguard your personal information.